The Bible uses many word pictures to give us a glimpse of hell:
- outer darkness Mtt 8
- a blazing furnace Mtt 13
- the fire of hell Mtt 18
- weeping and gnashing of teeth Mtt 24
The other day, while working out at the local fitness center, it became clear to me why hell is depicted as “outer darkness”, as I watched men and women, more than once, look at themselves in the mirror. This was beyond looking for the aspect of exercise… This was more of the “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life”. (I John 2:16)
“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” Proverbs 27:20
Hell will be outer darkness where you will neither see your own body or anyone else. It suggest loneliness and the additional pain of a life, while healthy, spent in vanity and lust.
To the man-on-the-street believer to speak of “postmillennialism” means next to nothing; like talking about taking a vacation trip to Saturn. Yet, its impact on the movement of world missions for over 200 years is untold. It has indeed worked like “leaven” and secretly mixed itself into the dough and infected the whole loaf. We cannot speak about missions today, anywhere in the world, without unknowingly promoting postmillennialism.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. (Gal 5:9)
In a nutshell postmillennialism is the belief that the world will be evangelized by a triumphant church and then Jesus will come again, to take up his throne in Jerusalem. It is an optimistic reading of the Bible to say the least. (Premillennialism, its counterpart, considered by many to be too pessimistic, believes that the world will grow more and more evil, like “in the days of Noah”, and Christ must come back to a world in chaos and conflict.)
For a more complete definition of postmillennialism I offer this from one of its adherents:
Postmillennialism looks for a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of a glorious age of the church upon earth through the preaching of the gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit. It looks forward to all nations becoming Christian and living in peace with one another. It relates all prophecies to history and time. After the triumph of Christianity throughout the earth it looks for the Second Coming of the Lord. (J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory)
Now I am sure you are thinking that “I don’t believe that all nations will become Christian” yet at the same time you have strong convictions that the world will end with a victorious Bride “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph. 5:27) and that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil. 2:10) in your city, nation or continent.
You wholeheartedly believe in a generation that will “transform the nations”. Such optimistic book titles seem to you to fit right:
Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Mathison)
Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism (Bahnsen)
He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology (Gentry)
As the Waters Covers the Sea
So what do you really believe? Are you optimistically waiting for that golden age, promised in the Old Testament when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14) “Jesus left us His Spirit and that is more than enough”; and that is as far as you have thought this issue through!
I suggest that you are part of the “whole loaf” that has been impacted by the leaven of postmillennialism. For starters, please note that the acknowledged “father of modern missions”, William Carey, was a postmillennialist. A little known fact yet undisputed.
William Carey (1761 – 1834) was an English Baptist missionary and minister and is, by all accounts, known as the “father of modern missions.” He was one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society, was a Calvinist and a postmillennialist. (Wikipedia)
Not only was Carey a postmillennialist, believing in a glorious golden age of the Gospel in all nations, he was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, pretty much anyone and everyone in the birthing of modern missions was one as well:
“Author Iain Murray (The Puritan Hope) has further demonstrated that the notable missionaries and mission leaders, Alexander Duff, David Livingstone, Henry Martyn and Henry Venn, were Calvinists and Postmillennialists. Murray notes that Postmillennial expectations can be heard in the addresses accompanying the founding of the London Missionary Society in 1795, the New York Missionary Society 1797 and the Glasgow Missionary Society in 1802. The same view influenced the Church Missionary Society in 1799. The London Missionary Society, an Anglican equivalent of Carey’s Baptist mission, expresses Calvinistic Postmillennialism in all its documents.” (Dr. Schirrmacher, “William Carey, Postmillennialism and the Theology of World Missions”)
Truth be told, it was EASIER to recruit for world missions if one’s theology included a large reaching Gospel impact, a great tree with its branches spreading over the whole world, where all nations are discipled, and all nations become Christian, so that Christ could return.
At this time, the prophetic parables of the kingdom of heaven (Mtt. 13) came into their postmillennialist focus. No longer was the mustard seed becoming a great tree with evil birds in its branches a symbol of corruption in the kingdom, it was now interpreted that the birds were believers in all the nations. Similarly, no longer was leaven an evil, rotting influence that created hypocrisy and false teaching, it now became the secret, viral influence of the Gospel reaching all nations.
Author Mark Shaw has confirmed this “shift in missions theology” on the continent of Africa:
At the heart of these evangelical revivals were three powerful convictions. The first was the centrality of the death of Christ for salvation. A second was the necessity of the new birth. The third was a new eschatology that envisioned the spread of Christianity around the world as a prelude to Christ’s personal return. (Mark R. Shaw, The Kingdom of God in Africa)
My advice is to start where Jesus started!
Do you see the trend? Do you see how a “new” interpretation came to fit one’s belief system? Do you know which side you are on? Have you made up your own theology through the years that is pretty much “created in your own image”?
My advice is to start where Jesus started! Don’t read a book on the subject. Don’t go to a conference about End Times and Eschatology. Go back to the beginning and read it again! Start with Genesis and read through until Revelation and see if your heart will “burn within you” as Truth impacts your soul. Let the Spirit of God translate and expound the passages for you. Come with an open mind and heart, free of any preconceived doctrines.
Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures… They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24: 27, 32)
The body of Christ has “fumbled the ball” for much of the last 2000 years regarding the parables of Mtt 13. If you were to read the commentaries of 20 men on these parables you would get 20 different opinions! Go ahead and try it!!
“Some say leaven is like an invisible virus for good, others say it is evil and ‘deterioration by rotting’. Some say the birds ‘in the branches’ are believers, some say demons. Some say the tree is a symbol of abnormal growth and worldliness, others say it is the gospel impact on all nations…”
The veil to the mystery comes off, however, when we realize that the “kingdom of heaven” is NOT heaven itself but is the “form” it will take place BETWEEN the two advents of our Lord; a kingdom full of mixture and compromise (“wheat and tares” / “leaven”) as a result of Jesus’ rejection by the Jews, God’s chosen people. The book of Matthew points to His continual rejection by the Jews and Jesus ends up separating Himself from them at the end of Mtt. 12
“Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mtt. 12:48-50)
It is important to grasp this as we read Mtt. 13. Here Jesus lays down, for the first time, what the “kingdom of heaven” will look like on earth as a result of His rejection of Israel and His disowning them.
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.” (Mtt 21:48)
I offer my readers here an expended quote from some 100 years ago to suggest that the parables of the kingdom of heaven are indeed a picture of the kingdom on earth during the King’s absence and not a picture of heaven itself.
“In these parables our Lord set forth the condition which He saw the kingdom would take on earth as a result of His rejection. This was all foreknown to God and provision was made for it. Christ, refused by the leaders of the nation of Israel, made propitiation for sin by His sacrificial death upon the cross (Acts 2:23; 1 John 4:10), and then, as the rejected Man, left this scene, ascending to heaven, where He sits exalted at God’s right hand.
The kingdom of the prophets is in abeyance [a state of suspension] until His promised return to build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down (Acts 15:16); but during His personal absence the Holy Spirit has come in a new way as the Comforter, to enable His servants to preach the Word in convicting power (John 16:7-11). Wherever the gospel is carried, it is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11).
As a result we see in the world today a great body of people who recognize in the Lord Jesus earth’s rightful King and give Him heart allegiance. There are millions more who give Him lip service and in an outward way own His authority, though their hearts are far from Him. These together constitute the kingdom in its mystical form (v. 11).”
Henry Allen “Harry” Ironside (1876-1951) was a Canadian-American Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, and author.
As we all know there are innumerable prefigurations (types) in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a whale and we know that he prefigured Christ. (Matt 12:40) Isaac, the only son, who Abraham was to offer up as a sacrifice is a type of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb and only Begotten Son of the Father. Here is another example of a “type” from the Gospel of John:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”. (John 3:14)
Of course, as with any truth, we can take typology too far and get off the “straight and narrow”, but we shouldn’t miss them when they are clear and right in front of our eyes. I want to suggest to you that Jesus and the 2 men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) is more that just a historically accurate story. I believe it was left there for us to see ourselves in the story and ask ourselves how we measure up to understanding all the Scriptures. They were challenged to believe all that the prophets had written regarding the First Coming and ours will be regarding the Second Coming.
On The Road to Emmaus…
Jesus, on the day of His resurrection, was led by God to join up with two men (disciples) walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. (We are not told directly but I think it was at the beginning of their journey.) These men treated Jesus as a stranger, being prevented by the Holy Spirit from seeing Him as their Master.
As Jesus joined up with them, they were still shaking their heads at the fresh report by the women who said that angels had told them that “Jesus was alive”! Even Peter, they declared, one of the inner-circle, confirmed the fact by witnessing the empty tomb. It brought them no joy, however, but rather sadness, as they had not grasped all the teaching about the Messiah from the Old Testament (OT).
By this time, Jesus had heard enough and confronted (provoked) the two disciples,
“O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)
“O foolish men” seems to us rather mean-spirited, until we realize that with Scripture Jesus takes a strong stand. He also pointed to their hearts that were “slow to believe” all that the prophets had spoken. Did they not see the clear teaching of His suffering and death (Isa. 53; Ps. 22) and only cling to the “glory passages” of the King (Ps. 72, 95-97)?
I wonder if this scene is not one with a double meaning (like most of the OT). Is not this scene told to us in such minute detail so that we take it to heart. I think it is. I believe it is a good gauge to our minds and hearts regarding the next big event on the prophetic clock – the second coming.
If this sounds implausible to you, please read this quote by noted Bible teacher and scholar, C.H. Spurgeon”
“Those forty days were soon over. Very remarkable days they were, if you study them; so different from His former life. Nobody molested the Lord; no scribes or Pharisees contradicted him, no malicious Jews took up stones to stone Him. . . . I might almost say that those days were the prelude of His glory, a sort of anticipation of His reign of peace, when He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth, and “wars shall cease” unto the end of the earth.” (Spurgeon, Our Ascended Lord)
Can we personalize this scene on the road to Emmaus?
What would Jesus say to us if He suddenly caught up with us on the way to work or at the golf course? Would we get a rebuke or a blessing? Do we believe all that the prophets have spoken about His second coming? Worse, do we know anything other than “He’s coming back and we win”? Have we been “diligent to present ourselves approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth?” (2 Tim 2)
What are we passing on to the next generation, our children and their children, who may actually see His coming?
All that the Prophets have Spoken
If we can, for a moment, I want to zero in on Jesus’ reply about being slow of heart to believe “all that the prophets have spoken”. Notice the word all. That must mean from Isaiah through to Malachi, 16 in all. The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor Prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Admittedly, most Christians know little from these great men of God. When was the last time YOU read Zechariah? Or worked your way through Daniel and Isaiah, getting divine insights to the text? Undoubtedly, these books are hard to understand, “with the often unusual prophetic language and the seemingly constant warnings and condemnations”. (S. Michael Houdmann)
Yet that is such a paltry excuse! Are not Paul’s writings also “hard to understand”? (2 Peter 3) I fear that we will be told something similar to “O foolish men” by the resurrected Lord if He were to appear in our lives at this moment. We need to press in until we get the truth from the books of the Bible, especially from all the prophets.
“Inherent in the Lord’s statement here is the fact that, in order to know God’s teaching in any sector, it is mandatory to take account of “all that the prophets have spoken” on any given subject.” (Coffman’s)
We are not to just read the parts of the Bible that we like, like the Psalms and the gospels. We need to be students of the entire Word, from Genesis to Revelation. Please notice what Jesus did with the two men on the road, He took them “back to the beginning” and clearly pointed out to them each time it mentioned Him as suffering Servant or promised Messiah.
“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)
What a learning experience for those two men! Jesus went back to the beginning to set the context. He took them, page by page, through the entire Old Testament. No wonder their hearts were “burning within” as He opened up the Scriptures to them. The word explained has a deeper meaning of “to expound thoroughly” or “translated”.
Oh, how we need that today. We, His disciples, need to have the Holy Spirit expound and translate until we get the meaning, not in our heads but in our hearts! We need that same burning in our hearts!
“Christ did not only put light into these his apostles’ heads, but heat also into their hearts, which burned all the while He communed with them.” (Burkitt’s Notes)
With the scriptures being “opened up” to them by their Master and their hearts ablaze with fresh revelation, the two men walked right back to Jerusalem, stopping for nothing, to meet up with the disciples and testify of Christ’s resurrection!
May we follow their example!
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”(Rev. 22:12, NASB)
One of the great mysteries, and stumbling blocks of many millions down throughout the ages, is Christ’s declaration that “I am coming quickly” recorded THREE times in the last chapter in the Bible (Rev 22: 7,12,20). Commentators argue if He meant “quickly” or “soon”.
The Bible closes with the text: He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
These are that last words of Christ to the last apostle. Clearly it was meant to help us, to encourage us and guide us. However, what Jesus spoke to the aged apostle on the island of Patmos has left the church with much confusion, speculation and uncertainty about His second coming for the last 2000 years.
Will it be soon? Will it be in my lifetime?
Evidently, this is what the apostle Paul thought when he wrote that “We who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”(1 Thess 4:17)
Did Paul get it wrong? Was he offering the Thessalonians “false hope”? I think one can assuredly assert that Paul truly expected to be with Christ during his lifetime. It should be noted that the first letter to the Thessalonians (52 AD) was written well before the Revelation (96 AD), so obviously the Spirit had already taught the church to be “ready and waiting” for His return.
Believe it or not, a section of the Church has changed the date of the writing of the Revelation to be before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). They do this, in spite of the evidence, to emphasize that “quickly” meant soon and that at the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus did in fact already come.
What I offer to you here is a great piece of writing that explains what I believe is really happening. God certainly knows the beginning from the end. He knew that when He said “I am coming quickly” that it would carry on for more than 2000 years. So what is going on….
“Known unto God are all His works from the beginning” (Acts 15:18); the real history and length of this dispensation [age] were of course not only foreseen, but foreordained of God. For certain reasons Christ never mentioned them to His disciples, and the Holy Spirit revealed but little about them to Peter and Paul.
What were those reasons?
To keep alive loving expectation of the Lord’s Second Coming, to encourage believers to constant watchfulness, to cheer them by a present hope, and to weaken the power of temptation to earthliness and worldliness, by stamping on all things here uncertainty and evanescence [temporariness]. Her ignorance of the time of the Master’s return, is made a motive to “patient waiting for Christ.” (2 Thess 3:5)
The first generation of believers took all the promises of His speedy return literally, and lived in the hope that they might remain to the blessed moment, and not sleep but be changed. The Holy Ghost did not undeceive them to any considerable extent; in one case, where the due balance of patience and hope had been in measure lost, express revelations of intervening events were given to restore that balance, but no periods were assigned to these events (2 Thess 2); the hope was left vivid as ever, if not quite so close at hand…
How could they have watched for an advent two thousand years off? What present practical influence could it have exerted over their lives? Their ignorance was evidently best for them, and God, in mercy, did not remove it. They held in their hands the prophecy, big with the mournful secret; but they guessed not its burden, in their blissful and blameless ignorance they concluded that the “I come quickly” (Rev. 22) of their absent Lord, meant “quickly” according to human calculations. To leave them in their ignorance was the gracious purpose of God, and His motive was their comfort and sanctification.
(H. Grattan Guinness, The Approaching End of the Age 1879)
Henry Grattan Guinness D. D. (August 1835–June 1910) was an Irish Protestant Christian preacher, evangelist and author. He was the great evangelist of the Evangelical awakening and preached during the Ulster Revival of 1859 which drew thousands to hear him. He was responsible for training and sending hundreds of “faith missionaries” all over the world.
“In the first century in Palestine, Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business.” Priscilla Shirer
Focus in on that last line again: “It moved to America and became a business.”
Gone forever are the simple days of a shepherd with a small flock. Gone forever are the simple days, meetings in homes and enjoying a big meal, where each one had something to offer to the assembly using his or her spiritual gift for the edification of all. Gone forever are the simple days when elders who led the meeting, also worked side by side with the townspeople with their hands.
“For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (I Thess 2:9)
Think I’m being too nostalgic? Early Christians met in homes, their leaders were working elders, for at least the first 300 years! No bright lights, no loud speakers, no choirs, no sermons, no pulpits and pews, no bells and whistles. (Before you get too upset with me, please notice that I did not say no worship and no teaching!)
The church that meets at their house.
Take a moment and read the NT again to see where they actually met:
“Greet also the church that meets at their house.” (Rom. 16:5)
“Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” (I Cor 16:19)
“Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.” (Col 4:15)
“To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house. (Philemon 1-2)
Everybody has a home, so the early church could grow exponentially not waiting for a building project and then a salary for the pastor, etc. The home expressed the intimacy the 12 had with Jesus for 3 1/2 years. Can you imagine getting back to this basic NT practice?
What’s in a meal you ask?
Because they met in homes they could eat together (where families still eat!) what we sometimes call an “Agape” or “Love-Feast”. If this sounds strange to you read this quote from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:
“Certainly by the time of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians (ca. AD 55) it is evident that that church observed the practice of meeting together for a common meal before partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
These weren’t just went empty words with Paul. He practiced what he preached!
“When he [Paul] had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left.” (Acts 20:17)
What’s in a meal you ask? Does it really matter 2000 years later if we “come together” in a hall with pews and pulpits and a sip and a cracker? The main point is that we are gathering ourselves together. I can’t argue with you on that BUT I do point out what Jesus, who often “broke bread” in homes, said of the practice: “Do this in remembrance of Me”. Also, we know that it was the practice of the apostles and the first century church.
“The meal had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood. At the end of this feast, bread and wine were taken according to the Lord’s command, and after thanksgiving to God, were eaten and drunk in remembrance of Christ as a special means of communion with the Lord Himself and, through Him, with one another.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
How I long to be part of a community of believers who stress what the NT stresses: who meet in homes, with little to no paid leaders, everyone sitting EQUAL around the table, eating and drinking, and letting the Spirit have His way.
Each one had something to give.
You see when the early Christians assembled, each one had something to give. Meeting in homes around the dinner table the setting was intimate enough for everyone to participate. Could we be further from the truth and practice of this then we are today?
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)
Can anything stifle the assembling and functioning of ALL believers more that a “paid professional” who does all the stuff? The pastor preaches, leads worship, prays, exhorts, reads the announcements, takes the offering, jokes, teaches the children… My job is to sit and listen (and to stand on cue).
To his credit, the size of the building and the intent of the gathering are all focused on one person. The congregation has waited a whole week to “hear what the pastor has to say”. The man/woman in the pew says: “I’ve been busy all week with work, kids, school… This is my time to sit back and receive.”
Truth be told, this is so ingrained in the average Joe Christian that I don’t think we can ever get back to the simplicity of the home, the Love Feast and each one using their spiritual gifts for the edification of all. Forget what the Bible says and what the apostles practiced.
Still, that is my quest and I won’t settle for anything less.
“We need to get back to being a healthy, vibrant community of true followers of Jesus.” Priscilla Shirer
This is not to passed over lightly. When Christ adopted the predictive element in prophecy He warned His disciples lest they should be led astray.
Whenever we speak of future things we are dealing with a matter full of importance, yet so full of peril that there have been all kinds of fanciful interpretations, all wandering from the clear declarations of Scripture, in order to fit in with some preconceived notions of future things, until we find in the Church of God today, vast numbers of God’s own children, saints without a doubt, who have altogether given up any attention to what the bible has to say concerning things to come.
Christ knew this danger. These men came to Him in the supreme moment when the shadows were upon Him, and when the great strain was before Him, and they asked Him, Tell us something about the future? And his first word was, “Take heed that no man lead you astray.”
As we read these two chapters [24-25], we need that that warning should fall upon our spirits. “Take heed.” We cannot read these things carelessly.
G Campbell Morgan The Gospel According to Matthew